I walked the Shikoku Pilgrimage in March/April 2018 and October/November 2019. The daytime temperatures were around 68°F (20° C) during these times. My equipment was adjusted to these mild temperatures.
I spent the night in guesthouses, temple accommodations and henro houses. In larger cities also sometimes in a business hotel. I didn’t spend the night outdoors and therefore I didn’t take any equipment with me, like tent, sleeping bag etc.
Based on my experiences, I have compiled the following tips, which can serve as an orientation for your packing list. For your own needs you should adapt the recommendations accordingly.
Table of contents
Shoes and socks
One of the most important pieces of equipment for the pilgrimage, which is about 85% on asphalt and only 15% on nature trails in Shikoku’s mountains and hills. Your shoes should be suitable for both surfaces.
Even in the warm months, it can be slippery when it rains. Shoes with a pronounced profile are very helpful.
It is recommended to choose the shoes a little larger (1/2 to 1 size) than normal. The feet will swell due to the long distances, the often high temperatures and the many asphalt during the hike.
I cannot recommend a particular shoe for the hike. The requirements of the hikers are too different for that. But for most, heavy hiking shoes should not be suitable due to the high weight and the too weak cushioning for the long asphalt stretches. Ankle-high shoes, with very good cushioning, low weight and profiled sole are probably the better choice. Special, cushioning shoe insoles can also be helpful.
Goretex equipment of the shoes is recommended. Such shoes are windproof, waterproof, but water vapor permeable and breathable.
Should be able to absorb moisture well, dry quickly, cool or warm, depending on the season and your own requirements.
To prevent blisters, double layer socks can be a good choice. With these socks, the two layers of the sock rub against each other and not the sock against your skin. A similar effect can be achieved by putting two socks on top of each other.
On my second hike of 2019, I had no problems with blisters at all. The combination of a highly cushioned running shoe and double-layer socks (Wrightsock Coolmesh II) was ideal for me.
Decisive for my choice were a very good back ventilation and a comfortable hip belt. Positive also the already integrated backpack cover for rainy days.
Like the shoes, the backpack should also meet your individual requirements in terms of features, comfort and size and be as light as possible.
Before leaving for Shikoku, test extensively to see if your backpack is right for you.
I was very satisfied with this backpack in every respect. My companion also for the next pilgrimage.
Clothing, sun protection, rain gear
In almost all temple accommodations, minshukus (guesthouses) and in some business hotels, washing machines and often a dryer are available for a small fee. Pyjamas are provided for the night. One set of hiking clothes, two sets of underwear and two pairs of socks are therefore already sufficient.
The clothes themselves should be comfortable, durable and functional, quick drying. Hiking pants and shirts are well suited. Cotton clothing quickly becomes damp during hiking, retains moisture for a long time and dries very slowly.
Headgear – highly recommended, depending on the season. A multifunctional cloth, which can easily be used as headgear, weighs the least. Those who hike with pilgrim’s hat “sugegasa” do not need a sun hat.
Sunscreen – a small pack is enough. Can be bought on Shikoku without problems.
Rain pants and rain jacket – effective, but not cheap. Your decision should depend on the time of year and likely climatic conditions. If you are going in late fall/early winter, you should protect yourself against rain better than in April or May because of cooler temperatures.
umbrella – sufficient for light rain.
On my pilgrimage in 2018 I had a rain poncho with me and made good experiences with it. In 2019, I had only a rain jacket with me to save even more weight and pack volume. I also got along well with it.
I would not take an umbrella with me. As an alternative for light rain, the pilgrim hat “sugegasa” or a sun hat can be sufficient.
The decision, which technical items are useful for the hike, is individually very different. Therefore, here are just a few suggestions to help you with your decision. In addition to the device, also plan for the necessary equipment.
Smartphone – can replace several other devices, items. Flashlight function makes additional headlamp superfluous. Possible alternative to camera, dictionary, etc.
Tablet – can replace several other devices, items. Possible alternative to camera, printed guidebook, pilgrimage guide, etc.
Laptop – only useful in exceptional cases
Camera – for photo enthusiasts it is difficult to do without. Depending on the model, high weight. Much additional equipment required; battery, charger, spare battery, memory card.
Headlamp, alternatively also flashlight – useful for routes through tunnels, sometimes up to 2 km long and poorly lit. And for those who want to start in the morning before sunrise.
On my pilgrimage in March/April 2018 I had smartphone, tablet, compact camera and headlamp, with batteries.
The headlamp I have not used. In some tunnels through which I went, a lamp was useful / necessary. For this, however, the flashlight function of my smartphone was sufficient. In 2019, I was on the road without a headlamp.
I like to take pictures and would therefore pack my compact camera and the necessary additional equipment again.
Medication and drugstore items – according to your own needs. Bringing plasters (can also be bought on Shikoku) and blister plasters is recommended.
Knife and small scissors – I used the knife mostly for peeling and cutting fruit. The scissors were very useful for cutting band-aids.
Lighter – for lighting candles and incense sticks at the temples.
Less is better.
Everything you take with you on the pilgrimage you will carry in your backpack or on your body for about 6 weeks.
While preparing for my pilgrimage I came across different recommendations on the internet, in magazines and books. “The fully packed backpack should be no more than 10 to 15% of your body weight, or no more than 10 kg for men and 7 kg for women, etc.”
Backpack and contents together weighed about 8 kg on my hike. Before starting the hike, I often walked to strengthen the leg muscles, but almost always without a backpack or with much less weight than 8 kg. During the pilgrimage, however, the extra 8 kg on my back was easily manageable.
Much can be bought on Shikoku in pharmacies, drugstores, supermarkets, if a need arises.